Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pumpkin and apple soup with andouille, balsamic vinegar, and blue cheese toasts


We survived another busy summer, and here I am once again recommitting to being a Better Blogger. Does she mean it this time? Who knows! Mama's trying her best, friends. Let's just jump right back into business, shall we? Tasty business!

I recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver as part of the Coppell Public Library "Coppell Reads" program. Great book, overall, and in it Kingsolver recounts coming across a headline in her local newspaper touting the arrival of pumpkin season, and to turn to page whatever for some great pumpkin recipes. She flipped to the article, and every single recipe called for opening a can of pumpkin puree. Can't even make this stuff up, right?

The inspiring recipe calls for butternut squash, but I consider all the winter squashes pretty interchangeable. Acorn, kabocha, delicata, butternut, pumpkin, get whatever's available and looks good at your Farmer's Market (we are especially partial to White Rock Local Market and Coppell Farmers Market, where you can usually find us) or Green Grocer. I made a few changes because I'm lazy (sloshing hot water in a shallow pan to roast the pumpkins didn't sound fun), health-conscious (a cup of butter, really?), cheap (if I'm using apples and have cinnamon and nutmeg in my pantry, I see no reason to buy apple cider as well), and really, really like sausage (who are you to judge me?). Winter squash and apples are going to vary in their level of sweetness; I found I needed to add just a little maple syrup to round it out at the end. Go by your taste. Adding a healthy drizzle of good quality aged balsamic vinegar right before serving was about the best decision I made yesterday. I also relocated the blue cheese to atop some toasted baguette as opposed to in the soup, but that was just so the bread wouldn't be lonely. I'm nice.

I do have to make one snooty little plea to use homemade stock, if you have it. There's just no comparison. I'd use boxed (organic, low sodium) in a pinch, but you'll really notice the difference if you make your own. Don't toss your turkey carcasses after Festivus - throw that sucker in a huge pot with onion, carrot, celery, some fresh herbs, kosher salt and a few peppercorns. Cover with water and simmer a couple hours, skim off the foam and schmutz, let cool and stash in small batches in the freezer. It's well worth the effort.

The soup as written below makes enough for 4-6 big portions, but only enough sausage and cheesy toasts for 2.

~2-3 lb winter squash (I used several li'l New England pie pumpkins, it was about 4 cups once cooked and scooped out)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 apple (I used a Gala), peeled, cored, and chopped
8 cups chicken, turkey, or vegetable stock
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
dash cinnamon, ground (probably about 1/8 tsp)
dash cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tbsp maple syrup
drizzle of good quality aged balsamic vinegar

2 oz spicy andouille sausage, cut into 1/4 inch dice

1/2 a fresh baguette, sliced 1/2 thick on the bias
nice funky blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Halve your winter squash and scoop out the seeds (save those guys for toasting). Arrange them cut-side down on a baking tray rubbed with a little olive oil and roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Allow them to cool.

Meanwhile, dice the rest of your vegetables. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven and sweat the onion, garlic, and celery with a good pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the apple and sauté another few minutes, until they start to break down, then add all the stock. Bring to a simmer. When your winter squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and add it to the pot along with the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cayenne. Cover and let it simmer about half an hour.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium flame and add the andouille. Technically it's already cooked, you just want to brown it up nicely on all sides. This shouldn't take longer than 5 minutes. Drain the excess fat.

Toast up your baguette slices and smear with your lovely funky blue cheese.

When all the vegetables in your soup are tender, jam your immersion blender in there and puree that sucker smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (I like a good grind of black pepper at this point). It's a good idea to taste your sausage and blue cheese too, mine were both actually pretty salty so I went easy on the soup.

Plate up in shallow bowls with a sprinkle of sausage and a drizzle of high quality balsamic vinegar. Dip that damn toast in there.

Serves 2 as written with lots of leftover soup.

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